A diplomatic incident, July 1836
Necessity demanded that a gang of Alderney smugglers kidnap a French customs officer on the French coast and take him back to Alderney, then leave him to make his own way home. The authorities in Alderney smiled indulgently on the miscreants, but French Ambassador Count Sebastiani made angry representations to the UK Government for action. The Comet is indignant, pointing out that the French are quite happy for their nationals to smuggle gin to England.
The Alderney Court, in consequence of the communication made to them by the Royal Court of this island, touching the Alderney smugglers, have proceeded to examine into the business, and the result has been, that six of the men in question have been examined and held to bail, each in the sum of £100, to appear and answer to the complaint preferred against them by the French Government, whenever it shall be required of them. We subjoin the Act of the Court of Alderney, emanated on this subject:
At the Court of the Island of Alderney, the 27th June, 1836, before Mr Nicholas Barbenson, Judge Delegate, present, Messrs William Joseph Sandford, John Gauvain, John Robilliard, and Peter Mesny, Jurats:
'Mr N B, Judge Delegate, having this day laid before the Court, an Act of the Royal Court of the Island of Guernsey, dated the 23rd inst., accompanied by a letter from the Honourable F. Maule, Under Secretary of State, enclosing a letter from His Excellency Count Sebastiani, the French Ambassador at the Court of London, for Foreign Affairs, complaining, that on the night from the 7th to the 8th May 1836, an under brigadier of the French Custom House, on duty, was carried away from the coast of Sionville, in the arondissement of Cherbourg, by some English smugglers, and brought to this island, and the Court being charged to take the necessary measures to discover the authors of this crime, and to secure their persons, in order that they may be proceeded against, as is meet; and John William Simon, James Bot, Felix Thomas Chardine, Florence Cassimer Paris, John Mew,¹ and Nicolas Gaudion (son of Nicolas), having this day been produced before this Court, by the Ministry of the Constables, accused of being the authors of the said crime, the Court after hearing the conclusions of the King's Procureur, admitted the accused to give bail to this Court of £100 each, that they will appear whenever the Kings' Officers shall require it.'
The following are the names of the sureties: Mr Peter Simon, Mr Philip Bot (son of John), Mr Peter Audoire (son of John), Mr Nicolas Quertier, Mr Henry Barbenson Olivier, and Simon Le Valle, and another for John Mew.
In consequence of the above Act, the Royal Court have informed his Majesty's Government of the proceedings which have taken place, and now wait his Majesty's pleasure with respect to the future.
The Star, Thursday, June 23, 1836.
SMUGGLING BETWEEN ALDERNEY AND FRANCE. The following is an extract from the Journal de Cherbourg, containing a report of the trial of three Alderneymen before the Cherbourg Court of Correctional Police, on the 6th instant, for having smuggled tobacco into France, attacked a custom-house officer whilst on duty, forcibly carried him off his post, and taken him to Alderney. The punishment of fine and imprisonment awarded by this tribunal, considering the aggravated nature of the offence, must be regarded as far more gentle than it would have been in England, for there, doubtless, nothing less than a seven or fourteen years' transportation would have been the result. Six of the offenders escaped, namely, three of the six who were left on the shore with the contraband goods and carried them into the interior from the east, and the three who brought away captive the French douanier, and landed him at Alderney. The three latter were certainly deeply implicated in this affair, and we should not be surprised to learn that steps have been taken by the French Government, through their Ambassador in London, to have them brought to justice. To resist whilst in the performance of his duty, take away prisoner, and bring to an English port, an officer acting under the orders, and by the authority, of another state, is to offer a direct insult to that state—an insult that would warrant, nay that appears to us to make it imperative on it, to solicit that redress from the British Government which we feel assured it would not be slow to give.
CHERBOURG COURT OF CORRECTIONAL POLICE.
At the commencement of the sitting the hall was crowded with spectators. The occasion was the trial of three individuals of the island of Alderney, implicated in the carrying off of GUILLOT, the under-brigadier of Customs. Here follows what appeared from the evidence:
During the night of the 7th May last, GUILLOT, who was doing duty on the coast of Siouville, perceived a large boat about to make the shore. He laid himself down on the ground so as not to alarm them; but on getting up he perceived he had to do with no less than nine smugglers, of whom six were already ashore and three in the boat. He attempted to fire off his musket, as is usual in such cases, so as to call other men in the service to his assistance; but the powder flashed in the pan, and the piece went not off. He was at that instant laid hold off by strong athletic fellows, who pressed his throat so as to prevent his calling out, and carried him, in spite of all resistance, on board the smugglers' boat. There he was bidden, on pain of death, to keep silence. He then witnessed the landing of packages the form and odour of which indicated them to be tobacco. The three individuals entrusted with the care of the boat then pushed off with their prisoner, whilst the other six proceeded across the fields with their packages.
The unfortunate Guillot heard his guardians deliberating as to what they should do with him. One of them, who was styled Grand Jacques, gave it as his opinon that their only alternative was to throw him into the sea, particularly if they should happen to fall in with any of the French custom-house vessels; for, observed he, those who wish to become smugglers must have sufficient courage to rid themselves of all who would bear testimony against them. The two other smugglers were unwilling to recur to this cruel expedient; they were the two brothers JOHN and FELIX BOTT. Let the situation of poor Guillot be imagined whilst, suffering already from the blows he had received, and soaked to the skin with sea water, he heard the smugglers thus deliberating on the question whether they should throw him overboard. At last they arrived at Alderney, where the smugglers treated Guillot with much hospitality, mingled however with no little irony; they warmed him, gave him hot wine to drink, put him into good lodgings, in short provided him with everything he wanted.
Let us now recur to what was going on in France. On the following morning Guillot is not to be heard of, but his cap is found on the beach torn, and his pouch in a stream of water, whilst traces of footsteps on the sand appear to indicate that a struggle has taken place. The unhappy wife of Guillot concludes her husband is no more, and gives vent to her sorrow; whilst all the officers of the neighbouring brigades assemble, and give it as their opinion than a murder has taken place.
The customs officers and gendarmes however vigilantly trace the smugglers who have landed the tobacco and embarked Guillot. Three of them are apprehended at a public-house just as they are about sitting down to dinner. The three others, who had separated themselves from their comrades for the purpose of making inquiries with a view to their re-embarkation, hearing of this capture, of course choose to forfeit their dinner rather than to return. Influenced by some motive—by some remains of humanity it may be presumed—they request several persons whom they meet to compose the public mind as to the fate of Guillot, who, they say, has been taken to Alderney and is there safe and sound.
The three accused who were placed at the bar were GAUDION, SOAT, and OLLIVIER, of Alderney. The tribunal found them sufficiently convicted of smuggling and rebellion, and condemned them to a fine of 500 francs each, for having opposed a customs officer, to a fine of 1,000 francs each for having riotously committed this offence, being more than six persons assembled to do it, and to an imprisonment of fifteen months, as well as for the offence of smuggling as for having used violence towrds Guillot. It may be presumed that if Grand Jacques had been one of the accused, the tribunal would have recompensed the rigidity of his principles by awarding him something approaching to the maximum punishment stated in the law.
At the same sitting, the tribunal confiscated a quantity of English tobacco seized in the hamlet of Ouzouville, at St Croix Hague, on a horse which had been abandoned by its conductor. The horse, panniers, bags, and merchandise, were all confiscated.
It must be confessed that the smugglers who explore our coast are the most daring fellows. You seize them today—they begin again tomorrow; you take away their merchandise, they go and procure more; nothing daunts them, and smuggling is their element.
¹ John Mew drowned when his fishing boat overturned attempting to return to harbour in the dreadful gale of 12 October of the same year, along with James Quesnel. He was still on bail for his part in the kidnapping incident at the time of his death.